MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta has done it again, Monday pulling the trigger on a blockbuster deal prior to the trade deadline and landing his team a big catch.

Two-time All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith comes to Baltimore in exchange for second- and fifth-round draft picks as well as reserve linebacker A.J. Klein, which immediately strengthens the Ravens’ vulnerable defense, which has blown three double-figure leads this season, at its most vulnerable spot – inside linebacker.

Smith, former first-round pick from Georgia and in the final season of his rookie contract, asked for a trade in the offseason once it was clear the Bears were not going to offer him an extension. He staged a hold-in (when the player is present in camp but does not practice or play), then came back to play for the Bears to produce a productive first half of the season.

Smith leads the NFL in tackles with 83, has 2.5 sacks and two interceptions this season. He is something the Ravens have not had in a while — a three-down linebacker with versatility, who can tackle, blitz and has solid coverage skills.

On top of that, head coach John Harbaugh announced that the Ravens have activated two of their pass rushers to the roster, rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo, who was a projected first-round pick before tearing his Achilles during a pro day workout, as well as outside linebacker Tyus Bowser.

After their Thursday night win in Tampa when they finally figured it out and ran the football, the Ravens are 5-3 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North. They will next play on Monday at New Orleans against the Saints.

As for Smith, it is likely the Ravens will do their best to extend his contract given the two draft picks they sent to Chicago. Baltimore could well be undefeated had it not blown those three big leads in its three losses, but Smith will be a player who helps the Ravens defense hold those leads for the rest of the season.

The pre-deadline deal for Smith brings to mind the same circumstance when DeCosta traded for cornerback Marcus Peters just prior to the 2019 trade deadline.

Elsewhere in our 2-Hour Drive Conference (2HDC), #NFLTheTVShow version, the Washington Commanders continue to be a plucky team, winning their second straight game under back-up quarterback Taylor Heinicke, 17-16, over the Colts in Indianapolis.

The Commanders are now 4-4 on the season and with each new success under Heinicke, continue to make their owner Dan Snyder look even more foolish for his insistence on bringing an overpriced quarterback to the team, namely Carson Wentz, for whom Washington gave up a second- and two third-round picks and now pay $28 million to this season to either play poorly or not play at all.

(And how about the Tuesday trade of William Jackson III to the Steelers for a 2025 draft pick? Big salary cap hit for next year right there.)

The Commanders just have more bounce to their step when Heinicke is the quarterback and, while I don’t know the status of Wentz’s popularity in the locker room, this team plays as though they genuinely like Heinicke. They wouldn’t let the Colts game get away from them and, behind Heinicke and some big catches and plays by Terry McLaurin, just kept grinding and grinding away until they could secure the victory. On top of that, the Washington defense is making plays.

As for Wentz, he was placed on injured reserve by the team after suffering a fractured finger in the second quarter of the Bears game, which Heinicke helped the Commanders win. Wentz is guaranteed to miss at least four games. After that, the team can designate him to return to practice.

It will be interesting to see where the Commanders are at that point, not to mention any input, if any, head coach Ron Rivera receives from the owner.

The Commanders host the 6-1 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, which, too, could be pretty interesting in seeing how Heinicke does against a hot team like that.

And then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who enter their bye week at 2-6 after last Sunday’s brutal 35-13 loss at Philadelphia to the Eagles.

The Steelers, who on Tuesday traded wide receiver Chase Claypool for a second-round pick, have the worst point differential in the league and the lowest-scoring team in the league. This takes place without their best player, the injured T.J. Watt, and it comes in the first year of the transition from the Ben Roethlisberger years.

“It’s Steelers versus Steelers,” said head coach Mike Tomlin, who, for the first time in his 15-plus seasons as the Steelers coach, is feeling legitimate heat, including from former head coach Bill Cowher, who criticized Tomlin’s handling of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.

That in itself is the most un-Steelers thing you’ll ever hear of, as is the bickering coming from the Steelers locker room.

Nobody believed this would be an easy period in Steelers history, yet neither did anybody believe the Steelers would be this bad. At least for now, anyway. The bye week comes at the perfect time for this team; and just remember, the Steelers organization is known for its patience, leadership and stability.

For instance, the two most fascinating statistics in sports to me are Stan Musial having 1,815 career hits at home and 1,815 career hits on the road; along with, since 1969, the Steelers have had as many home stadiums, three, as they have had head coaches.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT